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Spence Associates and Expedition Engineering in bitter row over bridge design

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A war of words has broken out between Spence Associates and Expedition Engineering over who designed the proposed £15 million North Shore footbridge in Co Durham.

Relations between Expedition Engineering director Chris Wise and Spence Associates' Stephen Spence have hit rock bottom after the architect/engineer team won a RIBA competition to design the River Tees bridge.

Both parties are claiming that they did most of the concept design work on the scheme, which starts on site today (19 July).

In 2003, Wise - the engineer behind London's Millennium Bridge - was invited by Spence to join him and enter the RIBA competition to design the footbridge - which will link Tees Valley Regeneration's (TVR's) North Shore development with Teesdale - for client Stockton Borough Council.

But the relationship was shattered when, soon after winning the contract, Expedition, TVR and English Partnerships - which owns the North Shore site - decided Spence would not be novated to the Design and Build stage of the contract.

'We were moved out of the equation,' said Spence, who contacted RIBA's competitions office to lodge his concerns.

However, Wise was also taking action - and in an email to the RIBA he questioned the extent of Spence's role in the winning asymmetrical scheme.

In the email, Wise said: 'For all his skills as an architect, this natural, physical design rationale is not something that Spence contributed to, or was able to contribute to at the level required.'

Spence, who is credited as concept architect for the scheme, said he had developed the models, montages and 'the bulk of the presentation that won the competition' - a claim dismissed by Wise.

'[Spence] is talking nonsense,' Wise said. 'Yes, he made models and montages, but the presentation was 100 slides in three sections. Spence did the masterplan, but the piece on the bridge, which was 60 slides, was by me.'

Wise added that the early concept sketches drawn up by Spence 'would not stand up on Planet Earth'.

Wise also showed the AJ his sketchbook, containing hundreds of concept drawings of the bridge (including one pictured below), which he said proved that he was the driving force behind the project.

But Spence countered this claim. 'All engineers have a bucket full of sketchbooks,' he said. 'We were the concept architect. We did not do the detailed design, but if Wise had been doing it, it would not have been the bridge it is today.'

Spence added that the row with Wise was irreconcilable. 'I wouldn't work with him again,' he said.

The elegant double-humped bridge, which is formed of two arches measuring 120m and 60m, is due to open at the end of 2008.

by Max Thompson

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